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Pres Marcos Wants Sara To Stress Science, Math Education


President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. envisions the Department of Education (DepEd), under the leadership of his running mate vice president-elect Sara Duterte-Carpio, to improve the quality of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education in the country.

Improving the quality of education, especially in math and science, is all the more important as the Filipino youth needs to keep up with the fast advancements in technology, president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said.

In his video log or vlog on Facebook last Saturday, June 4, Marcos agreed with one of the comments on his page that the government must develop more youth adept in the sciences, especially in research and development.

“You seemed to have read my mind. Unfortunately, our educational attainment when it comes to mathematics and the sciences, we do not do very well as compared to other countries. That’s why our new administration, especially the DepEd, would have to put more stress on the so-called STEM, because that’s what we really need right now,” the incoming president said partly in Filipino.

The Philippines’ Grade 4 students scored the lowest among 58 countries that participated in the 2019 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), results of which were released in December 2020.

Filipino students scored an average of 297 in Math and 249 in Science, way below the low international benchmark of 400.

In contrast, Singapore, which obtained the highest average in both Grade 4 assessments, scored 625 in Math and 595 in Science.

Marcos said the Philippines has lagged behind neighboring countries in this regard, but stressed: “I think that as long as we continue to push it (STEM education), the Filipino youths can catch up.”

Improving the quality of education, especially in math and science, is all the more important as the Filipino youth needs to keep up with the fast advancements in technology.

“Our economy right now is very largely technical based – based on science, based on new technical innovations. That’s why we have to learn the technologies, how to improve them, and how to apply them here in the Philippines. We need the talent,” Marcos said.

“That is one of the major areas that our DepEd is going to be looking at and how to strengthen the instructions for our children and students,” he added.

Duterte-Carpio had earlier accepted the nomination to be the next DepEd secretary and said that she will soon be consulting Marcos on would priorities in terms of basic education.

DOST scholarships for nuclear science, engineering

In a related development, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) will provide scholarships to Filipinos who want to pursue nuclear science and engineering studies in universities abroad as it races to develop a pool of nuclear engineers for a potential nuclear energy industry in the country.

DOST-Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) director Carlo Arcilla said the DOST Science Education Institute (SEI) has assured him of up to 20 scholarship slots for nuclear engineering students who can be supported to pursue overseas studies.

Arcilla, in a presentation at a nuclear energy forum spearheaded by the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) last week, said the DOST and PNRI saw the need for a rapid expansion of the depleted nuclear human resource base of the Philippines.

He said the government, during the time of the 20-year regime of Marcos Jr.’s father, built a pool of at least 80 nuclear scientists and engineers for the construction, operation and regulation of the controversial now-mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP).

“UP (University of the Philippines) had a nuclear engineering masters program. It was canceled by that (decision by the successor of Marcos Sr., the late president Cory Aquino),” Arcilla noted.

“They (SEI) will give me scholarships – up to 20 – if you get accepted to any good nuclear engineering school, anywhere on earth. We will get you the money to study there,” he said, adding that an applicant only needs to show acceptance by an engineering school abroad.

NAST president Rhodora Azanza said that in the Pagtanaw 2050 Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Foresight program for the Philippines, the academy had expressed its support of the inclusion of nuclear energy in the country’s energy mix.

Azanza, in her address at the NAST-organized nuclear energy forum on Sunday, June 5, noted that the NAST had issued a policy statement back in 2019 that supported the initiative.

“Earlier, the NAST through the DOST provided some recommendations related to the issue, including the thorough assessment of the non-functional Bataan Nuclear Power Plant,” she said.

Arcilla reiterated the DOST’s commitment and intensified efforts at preparing the human resource and other technical advisory expertise required to lay down a nuclear power ecosystem in the country, including the possible rehabilitation and commissioning of the BNPP.

In recent statements, Marcos expressed openness to tapping nuclear energy and the commissioning of the BNPP and revealed his discussion on the matter of assessing the facility with the South Korean ambassador.

Last February, President Duterte signed Executive Order 164 to assess the possibility of including nuclear power in the country’s energy mix, recognizing it as “a reliable, cost-competitive, and environment-friendly source of energy.”

Strategic foresight

In the foresight document it crafted, the NAST urged the Philippines to look to the sea and to outer space to stir up opportunities for sustainable development and productivity taking advantage of the country’s natural as well as human resources, setting a goal for the country to become a great maritime archipelagic nation.

In their 30-year Science, Technology and Innovation Foresight or Pagtanaw 2050 Roadmap for the Philippines, the NAST said that the country should develop its “Blue Economy” or the array of industries that can be nurtured and developed from the country’s rich marine resources spanning vast fisheries and other aquatic resources, as well as jumpstart maritime transportation to speed up commerce and inter-island transport of goods and people.

“The ‘blue economy’ approach is imperative in the Philippines, an archipelagic country with territorial seas that are twice the size of its total land area. Scientific and technological innovations are expected to play a crucial role in the preparation and implementation of a comprehensive action plan for a National Coast and Ocean Strategy,” an executive summary of the Pagtanaw 2050 said.

“Space-based technologies have important applications in communications, weather forecasting, disaster management, natural resources and land use management, and in monitoring the environment. Current upstream and downstream space initiatives and future plans on space technologies must continue to be enhanced,” it said.

Other key areas that the NAST identified for strategic development are governance, business and trade, digital technology/information and communications technology, science education and talent retention, food security and nutrition, energy, health systems, water, environment and climate change, and shelter, transportation and other infrastructure.

Science Secretary Fortunato dela Peña had commissioned the NAST to undertake the crafting of the 30-year Foresight document after being a witness to the launch of Foresight Malaysia 2050 in 2018.

“I was so inspired and I thought we should have our version of it,” Dela Peña said in the recent virtual launch of the more than 290,000-word document.

The European Union defines strategic foresight as the application of systematic, participatory, future intelligence gathering and medium to long term vision building processes to inform present day decision and mobilize joint actions that bring together key agents of change and various sources of knowledge to develop strategic visions and anticipatory intelligence.

“This will serve as the guiding principle that will enable the science community to assist in shaping our country into a prosperous archipelagic and maritime nation,” Dela Peña said.

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